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  • Phil Keetley

Are you eating enough on expedition?

Updated: Jun 27, 2019

Whilst idling away these long dark days, I have turned my mind to the sea kayaking expeditions to come. Part of my planning has been to improve my expedition food this year, with an emphasis on getting the right number of quality calories.

Long days sea kayaking

I am considering this based on the evidence I have seen all too often; people on expedition crashing - usually on the fourth day of a trip. There can be a number of reasons for this; lack of conditioning, poor food choice (more to follow on the future blog post), sometimes psychological reasons: but it is mostly due to a distinct lack of understanding of the calorific requirements for long days on the water.

Not burning out is important for many reasons, not least in that if you are low in blood sugars at the end of a long day, you are much more likely to make a poor decision, or take a trip or a fall - any of which can ruin an expedition. Food matters!

Using some science, we can estimate our calorific intake and ensure that our meal plans meet the requirement.

Expedition cooking

Metabolic Equivalent Rates (METs), are a measure of energy expenditure related to the person's mass whilst performing specific physical activity over a set period of time (compared to a reference, set by convention at 3.5 ml of oxygen per kilogram per minute). The MET tables show us that watching TV has a MET of 1.0. Sea kayaking of the intensity likely on an expedition has a value of 5 (kayaking at moderate effort).ª

The equation is as follows: MET x Bodyweight (Kgs) x 3.5 / 200 = calories per minute.

So for me: 5 x 82 x 3.5 / 200 = 7.17 calories per minute, and 430 calories per hour. On an average day of five hours kayaking, that is 2152 calories per day, just for the kayaking activity. A man's daily calorie intake is recommended as 2500 calories to maintain weight, without the additional five hours of exercise.

Now these rates are quite high, and I suspect represent a committed paddle at 3 knots with laden boats. A leisurely cruise might only be 3 or 4 METs: but that is still another 1200-1700 calories per day!

Some warnings here: METs are standardised and not specific to individual's fitness levels, body mass index, paddling efficiency or your personal base metabolic rate. Whilst based on observations, METs are somewhat generic, and these calculation should not be taken as fact, just as guidelines.

The lesson from this though is that we should not underestimate the calorific burn of a full day out on the water. If we add the extra calories burned breaking camp, moving kit and boats, launching and landing, we can realistically expect to be requiring a significant number of calories over and above our usual daily intake (2000 for a woman, 2500 for a man). I aim to have available at least 3500 - 4000 calories per day, and I can a then adjust intake as I require.

What tends to happen is sea kayakers pack easy to cook foods, many of which are extremely low in calorific value (I am thinking pot noodles here), and add in a load of sugar in sweets and chocolates. This is a recipe for exhaustion and results in the fourth day crash.

So, take a look at your expedition food menus; check the calorific values of each main meal and perhaps calculate your MET to see if you are getting enough calories. You might well find that your performance and comfort levels increase and you enjoy the expedition all the more!

This is me topping up my calories with a wee dram of Jura, overlooking the Paps of Jura....purely medicinal of course...

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